Books

1001 Plants...

1001-both
I recently contributed a foreword, and discussed some of the plants, in a big fat new book called, in Britain, 1001 Plants You Must Grow Before You Die and called, in North America, 1001 Plants To Dream Of Growing. Perhaps the publishers thought that the sensibilities of American readers are a little more delicate that those of the Brits and that they’d be discouraged from buying the book by the reminder of the fact that, one day, they’ll be pushing up daisies. Anyway, both titles give you idea.

The book runs to 960 pages – yes, really!, weighs in at 4lb 9.4oz/2.08kg, and every one of the 1001 plant choices is, of course, handsomely illustrated in color. Editor Liz Dobbs did a great job. The book is split into sections – annuals, perennials, shrubs, climbers, edibles and so on – and each chosen plant is discussed by an expert who reveals interesting insights into the plant, its origins, its habits, its associations and why it deserves to be chosen. It really is a good read.

I’m delighted to say that the book has been well-received. To pick just two reviews, The New York Journal Of Books said: "This gorgeous book is meant for anyone who is an aspiring gardener or an expert horticulturist, regardless of green-thumb abilities or current state of a reader’s yard or window box.". And an enthusiastic reviewer on amazon.co.uk said: “Brilliant book and when it's laying out on the counter even the non gardeners in the family pick it up for a browse though and read aloud the plants that they find interesting or unusual.”

Now, here’s my advice. If you’d like to send a friend a plant book for the holidays, this is the book. But here’s the thing. It’s so heavy that it will cost you a fortune to send it. But if you order through amazon and have it sent direct to the friend then the shipping can be free if you’re not in a rush – and think about having them gift wrap it too. Don’t you just love a bargain?!

 

          


Impressive new Kniphofia book

Kniphofia_Orange_Vanilla_Popsicle_4b-700
Not so long ago I talked to the commissioning editor at one of the top garden book publishers who said they weren’t commissioning any more books about plants because people could get all the information on plants they needed online. Well, not so fast. This gold standard of plant books proves them wrong.

Kniphofias are – as we say these days – trending, so the appearance of Kniphofia: The Complete Guide by Christopher Whitehouse is very timely. In the last six years one American breeder alone has introduced thirteen new varieties (including 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle', above) and the trial at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley that ended in 2009 revealed some fine older cultivars.

This book does everything a monograph should: in its 456 pages it classifies and describes the seventy species thoroughly and with insight; over a thousand cultivars are covered, 160 that are grown today are described in detail and illustrated - grouped by the color of their flowers so we can more easily distinguish one from another. We gain a valuable understanding of how and where kniphofias grow in the wild, courtesy of a botanist who’s studied them in their native habitats. And if you want to know how to grow them… well, look no further.

Kniphofia-Book-1907057670That’s all well and good, but if this wealth of information is not provided in an attractive and accessible way then why bother? Fortunately, the design is elegant and stylish yet straightforward and accessible; the color reproduction is excellent and whatever I need to know about kniphofias, this is where I turn.

And, in some ways, that’s the most important feature of all. There’s no room in the gardening book market for more than one book on kniphofias, so the one that appears has to cover, well, everything. In recent years a number of plant books have appeared that have not been comprehensive but which have, by their very existence, prevented another book taking up the slack.

This is the first in a series of plant monographs from the Royal Horticultural Society, with books on some popular and important plants in the pipeline. It’s not cheap, but even so I’m sure it won't make the RHS or its author much money. But it’s part of the role of the world’s largest and most prestigious gardening society to make fundamental information about plants available for the gardening and botanical community across the world. Count this as a job very well done.

Kniphofia: The Complete Guide by Christopher Whitehouse is published by the Royal Horticultural Society at £40.00/c$50.00.

                 

 

* Disclosure: I was paid for a fee for a small contribution to this book.


Books for the holidays

6a00d834515e3169e201b8d15f7d6a970c-800wiIn case you’re on the look out for gifts, I just thought I’d quickly remind you of the books I’ve discussed here this last year.

The Irish Garden
"a book for the far away voyeur and a before-you-visit book. If you never visit Ireland you’ll enjoy this book anyway". Listen to my audio review of The Irish Garden specially recorded for The Guardian podcast Sow. Grow. Repeat. (But inexplicably not used!)

Himalayan blue poppies: A stupendous new book
"the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study"

the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study
the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study
the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study"

Books with a local focus
Featuring Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds by Victoria Summerley, Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania by Liz Ball and George Weigel, and Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson.
"a book with limited focus can have universal appeal"

a book with limited focus can have universal appeal - See more at: http://www.transatlanticplantsman.com/transatlantic_plantsman/2015/09/books-with-a-local-focus.html#sthash.QH8n145C.dpuf

Shades Of Blue
"a series of stories to inspire and hearten us".

 

 


Funny gardening books

RevoltingGardenCowering in bed under the influence of the Great British Headcold, a little light reading was required. I looked shivveringly at the bookshelves and my eyes fell on a little cluster of “comic” gardening titles. I grabbed them and staggered back to bed.

The undoubted star of these four titles was the most recent, The Revolting Garden by Rose Blight. Rose Blight is the 1970s pseudonym used by none other than Germaine Greer for a series in Private Eye, the pioneering British satirical magazine. This little book is a collection of her columns. Here’s a taste of her style, she’s discussing the garden built in London to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1976.

“The ghosts of deluded planting schemes of love-lies-bleeding, mignonette and snow-on-the-mountain gibber and grin hideously over turbulent brick paths. This arid expanse is made to seem as vast and uncrossable as the Gobi by absurdly out-of-scale architectural embellishments, a dwarfish obelisk (erected no doubt to the memory of the plants whose cadavers lean against the winds of January), and knee-high balustrades. Diagonally opposite the mini obelisk, a very tall (and ergo very costly), hopelessly miserable cypress strains against its guy-ropes, doubtless trying with all its might not to root in such an ill-omened spot… It is too much to hope that the Duke of Gloucester who opened the garden… will have the goodness to come and close it again.”

No one writes about gardens like that any more, I’m sorry to say.

Going back to 1936, we come to Garden Rubbish by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, trying to cash in on their very funny bestseller 1066 And All That. Trying in vain, unfortunately. Here’s a few of their thoughts on garden pests.

"i.    Onion-fly. A species of Fly which, being devoid of original ideas, attacks Onions. Withhold the Onion and the Fly dies. No need to be cruel: don’t keep letting the fly see the onion. Take it right away and hide it.
ii.    The Woolly Aphis. Send it to the Laundry. When it comes back send it to the wash again. After two or three goes it will shrink so tight on to itself that it will suffocate.
iii.    Wire-worm. Easily distinguishable by its long slender yellowish body. Easily caught by burying slices of turnip (ground bait) secured on a skewer.
iv.    Weevils. Ignore them - remember the old warning “Hear no weevil, see no weevil, speak no weevil” and cut them dead.””

Ungardeners1944 brings us Flower Gardening for Ungardeners by Ethelind Fearon (author, also, of Cakes for Occasions). I know she sounds like an anagram, but in fact she was H. G. Wells’s gardener. To be honest, the best part of this book is the cover by Alex Jardine. I think the book's intended to be “light” rather than comic and it begins like this.

“What is an ungardener anyway?

“Obviously one who instinctively dodges gardening. He, or more likely she, is averse from any sort of toil, moil or soil and intends, by reason of tough resistance and imperviousness to hints, bribes or threats, to remain so.

“Occasionally this happy situation, this care-free attitude, is upset by the acquisition of a piece of land which for very shame, you must tend - some dump left in hideous disarray by the builder when you move into a new house, or a despondent jungle of non-productive and funeral conifers knee-high in nettles if it’s an old one. However, in either case I can tell you how to make it bloom like mad while you remain almost totally inactive and acquire never a callus, except those on your shoulder blades, from lounging too low, too long, in a deck chair.”

Finally, from 1944, Tubers and Taradiddle (or The Gardener’s Entertainment) a year in the garden of Donald Cowie who's described in the blurb as “already known to the discriminating as a satirist to be taken seriously, he has a considerable reputation among writers of the younger school.” Here's a sample.

“FEBRUARY 12
“Already I feel approaching summer in the air, and cannot understand why people say it’s still too early to plant most vegetables. So I put in spring onions today, between broad bean rows. Packet said: “make a drill”. Not sure what that meant, I asked Carstairs (the neighbour), who informed me: “Well, you know, a kind of ditch you make, or a hole, not too deep, you know, but then you don’t want it too shallow.” I tried to follow neighbourly instructions, but making ditch was heavy work, as I came eventually to a bed of yellow clay, far below sub-soil….

“Onion seeds, ridiculously small and liable to run through hands, I inserted carefully, one by one, in bottom of ditch then shovelled clay back. Job took five hours….

“Waiting till frosts are finished, indeed! Why, we might not have another frost this year…

“FEBRUARY 20
“For the last eight days - nothing but snow, snow, snow.”

So they were the books I chose to enliven my sickbed.

Do you know? I’m feeling better. Not sure if the humour of these four little books cheered me up or the lack of it forced me out of bed to do something else and get away from them. The Rose Blight book I definitely recommend and of the others Tubers and Taradiddle is the pick – except for the stylish jacket of Flower Gardening for Ungardeners.

Any other suggestions for funny gardening books - from any era - that really are funny? Apart from Christopher Lloyd, of course.


The Irish Garden

Mount Usher garden Image © Jonathan Hession from The Irish garden
When I lived in Ireland, decades ago, every few months I would ride south from my home north of Dublin Airport to the garden at Mount Usher in County Wicklow. Ride on a battered old motor bike, I should say, not cycle: it was 38 miles (61 Km).

One of the first articles I ever wrote was about Mount Usher, for The Irish Garden magazine, which is still going strong. I criticized the maintenance at the garden and was then myself severely criticized for doing so – most of the angry responses, I seem to recall, assumed that I was criticizing the garden itself when in fact it was the lack of care: I was dismayed to see wild brambles growing out of ornamental grasses.

So, naturally, the first chapter I looked up in this splendid new book, The Irish Garden by Jane Powers, was on Mount Usher and I was delighted to discover how well it still thrives – and it certainly seems to be well looked after (although a local spy tells me this may not be the case). I remember it especially for its quietly The Irish Garden by Jane Powers with photography by Jonathan Hession published by Frances Lincolncompelling atmosphere and the fact that, then, you could cross so close over the river and streams. I also remember it for its rare South American evergreen shrubs, including Crinodendron and Desfontainea, and for its impressive Eucryphia collection. It now contains, Jane tells us, over two dozen trees which are champions of all Britain and Ireland.

Having visited many of the gardens featured in the book, mostly long ago, I was very pleased to discover elements of familiar gardens that were new to me as well as to have remembered enthusiasms rekindled. It takes four hundred pages to cover almost sixty gardens from an island the size of South Carolina (America’s tenth smallest state) and this and the very large format allows the expansive photography by Jonathan Hession space to make a real impact and the essays space to be reflective as well as descriptive.

This is both a book for the far away voyeur and a before-you-visit book. If you never visit Ireland you’ll enjoy this book anyway. If you intend visiting Ireland, all the gardens are open to visitors and their websites listed.

The Irish Garden by Jane Powers, with photography by Jonathan Hession, is published by Frances Lincoln at £40/$60.

             


Shades Of Blue - an uplifting new book

Shades Of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue edited by Amy Ferris (Seal Press)I like to bring the various ventures of family and friends to your attention here on the Transatlantic Gardener, whether they’re horticultural or not, and there’s a flurry of them coming this autumn. All are special in their different ways.

First off, published yesterday, is a collection of essays edited by our friend the indomitable Amy Ferris and including a contribution by my wife judywhite. Amy is the author of one of the most extraordinary memoirs of recent times, Marrying George Clooney, and of the screenplays for the movies Funny Valentines and Mr. Wonderful. judy began as a humor writer for Seventeen and other magazines, transitioned into writing about and photographing plants and gardens. In recent years she's shifted focus again, writing the script for the movie Lies I Told My Little Sister… More on that when it’s released next week.

This book is called Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue – and the first thing to say is this is NOT a book that will make you feel worse. As Laura Davis, bestselling author of I Thought We’d Never Speak Again says in her review: “These compelling tales of depression aren’t depressing—they are emblazoned with hope—because every person in this book is a survivor. A survivor who doesn’t flinch from explaining exactly how they climbed out of their own personal pit of despair. How they chose life.” judy's piece is both agonizing, and funny.

With tenderness and tragedy, thirty five writers lay themselves bare, revealing a series of stories to inspire and hearten us, however close we’ve come to the desolation they describe. And, be assured, there are laughs, too.

Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue edited by Amy Ferris is published by Seal Press.

Find out more at the Seal Press website

                


Books with a local focus

The arrival of four new and recently published books, and the success of another, highlights an interesting trend. Locally focused books seem to be coming to the fore.

9780711235274Victoria Summerley, my friend from my days as Gardening Correspondent at the London Evening Standard, reports on Facebook that her book Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, published last winter, is the third best-selling garden book out of all those published in Britain this year – which is impressive for a book on a small, though picturesque and very well gardened, part of the country. Of course, it helps that it’s good.

And in my latest parcels of review copies come more books with a local focus. Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania, Garden Plants for Scotland the sumptuous The Irish Garden, as well as the stately Oxford College Gardens.

Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania by Liz Ball and George Weigel belongs on every Pennsylvania gardener’s shelf, especially in this revised and re-organized new edition. It will be all that many weekend gardeners need. There are companion volumes for most of the other states across the nation and, in a country where the climate varies so much from one state to the next, these locally focused books are invaluable. 9781591866305

Kenneth Cox has spent many years campaigning for the recognition of Scotland as different, horticulturally, from the rest of Britain. He instigated the creation of the Scottish Gardenplant Award to recognize plants specially suited to Scottish conditions. This revised edition of Garden Plants For Scotland describes the 500 winners of the Scottish Gardenplant Award and thousands of others suited to Scottish conditions.

These two books clearly have little use beyond their field of focus. Not so The Irish Garden. From the husband-and-wife team of Jane Powers, Gardening Correspondent for the Sunday Times in Ireland and previously at The Irish Times, and Jonathan Hession, who turned from photographing movies during shooting to landscapes.

Jane’s blend of historical and contemporary insight is ideal applied to gardens in country that has been through so much varied change over the centuries and her eye for the quirky is invaluable. More about The Irish Garden another time.

9780711232181Oxford College Gardens from Tim Richardson, with photography by Andrew Lawson, features a great deal of architecture along with the gardens which vary from the impressive (including Magdalen and Worcester) to the unremarkable (Keble, St Hilda’s); of course, they all must be included but space is allocated accordingly.

Tim’s impeccable historical research and judgment predominate. He’s always interesting and not afraid to be critical. But once you’re inspired to visit some of these gardens there’s provides no guidance as to when, or if, these college gardens can be visited or how to find out - apart from remarking on “the strictures and opening time eccentricities of the colleges”.

The Irish Garden is a great example of how a book with limited focus can have universal appeal, Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania is a fine example of local book for local readers. More about The Irish Garden soon.

North American gardeners
Order Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds by Victoria Summerley (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order The Irish Garden by Jane Powers (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order Month-by-Month Gardening: Pennsylvania by Liz Ball and George Weigel (published by Cool Springs Press)


British and Irish gardeners
Order Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds by Victoria Summerley (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order The Irish Garden by Jane Powers (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order Oxford College Gardens by Tim Richardson (published by Frances Lincoln)
Order Garden Plants For Scotland by Kenneth N. E. Cox and Raoul Curtis Machin
(published by Frances Lincoln)



Himalayan blue poppies: A stupendous new book

The Genus Meconopsis by Christopher Grey-WilsonThe blue poppies are amongst the most tantalizing plants we grow – or try to grow, at least. These exotic relatives of the corn poppy and Oriental poppy instantly attract visitors in any gardens where they’re in bloom. The Himalayan blue poppy… the very name is exciting. We’re almost in Indiana Jones country…

But there’s no doubt that not only are many species difficult to grow but their classification and naming has all been more than a little baffling. So the arrival of this fat – nay, enormous – new book from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the expert on Meconopsis, Christopher (Kit) Grey-Wilson, is very welcome.

So, first of all: 300 pages, 300 color pictures, large format (almost 12in x 10in/30cm x 25cmm), spectacularly thorough (except see below) and amazingly detailed. The photographs are superb, many of plants are seen in their wild Himalayan home which is not only a treat in itself, but also helps inform us on how to grow them. The writing is admirably lucid (as we would expect from Mr. G-W), especially considering some of the difficult botanical issues that he discusses. It’s such a relief to have all the classification and naming set out in a way we can all grasp.

But, to be clear: This is primarily a work of botany, and not a work of horticulture. Based on the latest field, herbarium and laboratory studies Kit has completely revised the classification of the whole genus, given us detailed new descriptions of all the wild forms and published many new names for the first time. Garden hybrids and garden cultivars are not usuallly discussed and even some that have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit in recent years are not mentioned. As I say, this is not a book for gardeners.

There are many striking results of all this, but two stand out. Firstly, the name Meconopsis baileyi is now, again, the correct name for what we all finally got used to calling M. betonicifolia – the blue poppy most often seen and the easiest to grow. Secondly, our old friend the lovely yellow Welsh poppy, so familiar as Meconopsis cambrica, and native not only to Wales but Ireland and parts of south west England, and naturalized all over Britain, is now Parameconopsis cambrica. (More on that another time…)

So. This a very impressive work, and the culmination of many decades of dedicated and insightful study in the field, in the herbarium and in the laboratory. It’s an amazing achievement. But, as with The Genus Erythronium that I discussed here in December, it’s expensive: $112/£68. Isn't it time these books were published as ebooks for a third (a quarter?) of the price?

Kit taught me taxonomy when I studied at Kew many decades ago and he was mad about meconopsis then. This book is the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study. Perhaps, next, he’ll give us a book for gardeners.

The Genus Meconopsis by Christopher Grey-Wilson is published by Kew Publishing in Britain and by The University of Chicago Press in North America.

                 


Classic tree and shrub reference goes online

Bean's Trees and Shrubs Online.The five volume Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles by W. J. Bean, usually referred to simply as “Bean”, is a monumental work running to over 4,000 pages. It does what it says: it describes in detail the woody plants (including climbers) that can reasonably be expected to grow outside in Britain (mostly zone 8, some zone 9).

The four A-Z volumes were last revised almost forty years ago, then a supplement appeared in 1988 (see below, click to enlarge), so it does not include recent classification and name changes and recent introductions. Otherwise, it's impressively comprehensive with good descriptions and boundless information on origins and differences between similar plants. It’s invaluable.

Now you can read it - free.

In the first part of a two part initiative, the International Dendrology Society has published the whole thing – all 4,027 pages of it – online. And it’s free: no charge for access. The original four A-Z volumes plus the supplement are currently priced on abebooks.com at £325/$504. Did I mention that the online version is free?

The new online version is easy to navigate and attractively presented. The next step is adding pictures.

You can read more about it on the excellent blog post by John Grimshaw, who’s been heavily involved with the project - and I see he’s had the same idea of including an image of his five volume set as I did!

Take a look at Bean's Trees and Shrubs online - it's invaluable, and it's free.

The five volumes of Bean's Trees and Shrubs. Image ©GardenPhotos.com

And what's coming next? Britain's Alpine Garden Society is well into the process of making its invaluable two volume Encyclopaedia Of Alpines available online. It's currently available from abebooks.com for £150/$250.74. You can track the progress of the operation here.


Books for the holidays

Gardeners always like to receive books as holiday gifts. Here are a few suggestions.

THREE BOOKS ON GARDENS

Great Gardens Of America by Tim Richardson (Frances Lincoln)
A reduced format, paperback edition of a sumptuous book first published in 2009. With wonderful photography by Andrea Jones, it features a more extensive, and more insightful, text than many well illustrated garden books. And at a more affordable price than the original.


                   


The English Country House Garden by George Plumptre (Frances Lincoln)
From classics such as Great Dixter and Hidcote Manor, under appreciated gardens including Thorp Perrow and Helmingham Hall to modern creations by Dan Pearson and others – it makes you wonder why the gardens at Downton Abbey aren't more impressive.


                 


The Gardeners Garden by Madison Cox, Toby Musgrave and more (Phaidon)
A very large, fat and extensive guide to the best gardens around the world which will be a travel guide to a few and an inspiration to many. Reveals vistas and details of more than 250 gardens ancient and modern with enlightening commentaries and over 1200 photographs.

                


PLANT BOOK FOR EVERYONE

Where Do Camels Belong? The Story and Science Of Invasive Species by Ken Thompson (Profile Books, UK, and Greystone Books, USA)
An essential truth telling using the science of invasive species to cut through the myth making and over exaggeration to explain the situation as it really is. Reviewed earlier this year.


                


PLANT BOOKS FOR BRITS

Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops by Naomi Slade (Timber Press)
Inspiring, lively, well-written and well illustrated book which is a cut above the other recent non-scientific snowdrop books. Just in time for snowdrop season.



Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs by James Armitage, Dawn Edwards and Neil Lancaster (Royal Horticultural Society)
A very welcome and comprehensive revision of the classic tree and shrub reference guide written in accessible language and covering well over 13,000 trees and shrubs. Reviewed earlier this year.



PLANT BOOKS FOR NORTH AMERICA

Fine Foliage: Elegant Plant Combinations for Garden and Container by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz (St. Lynn’s Press)
An across-the-zones guide focusing on planting combinations, bringing out the best in foliage plants by partnering them together creatively. Good advice, well illustrated, good value. Winner of the Gold Award for Best Overall Book at the 2014 Garden Media Awards.



Month by Month Gardening Series (Cool Springs Press)
We all know that gardening in Maine is very different from gardening in California and these state-by-state guides provide invaluable local advice for local situations. Thirty six titles so far.

Choose one of the State by Sate, Month by Month Gardening Series published by Cool Springs Press

BOOKS BY ME AND MY WIFE JUDYWHITE
On the other hand, how about a copy of my latest book or my wife's latest book?!

Powerhouse Plants: 510 Top Performers For Multi-Season Beauty by Graham Rice (Timber Press)

Trees, shrubs, perennials, climbers and more to bring multi-season color to your garden. Just one plant can bring four bursts of seasonal colour. "Offers a mind-boggling number of suggestions. ... It's about making the most of the space in your garden. And that's always a good idea." Philadelphia Inquirer

           

Bloom-Again Orchids: 50 Easy-care Orchids that Flower Again and Again and Again by judywhite
The easiest Orchids to Grow! 50 great choices, plus how to make them rebloom. Includes judywhite's 10 best tips for growing orchids. "…gorgeous photos accompanied by concise tips and descriptions. The book is easy to navigate and the stunning photos lure you in." - Miami Herald

          


Happy Holiday reading!